Sharjah show they are going nowhere in AG Super Cup, Shabab Al Ahli splutter to penalty defeat

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(UAE Pro League).

Ryan Mendes was the hero for gutsy 10-man Sharjah as they valiantly prevailed on penalties against Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club in the Arabian Gulf Super Cup.

Saturday’s first half of few chances amid the constricting 68-per-cent humidity at Dubai’s Al Maktoum Stadium reached boiling point upon the half-hour mark. UAE left-back Al Hassan Saleh floored compatriot Abdulaziz Haikal with a flailing elbow, reviews of which via the video assistant referee then convincing referee Mohammed Obaid Khadim to produce a red card.

President’s Cup holders Shabab Al Ahli predictably dominated possession from that point. The Arabian Gulf League runners-up struggled, however, to find a way past the obstinate defence of the top-flight champions.

Misses from 12 yards by Deportivo La Coruna loanee Fede Cartabia and Moldova forward Henrique Luvannor would then prove critical in the shootout. It was left to Cape Verde winger Mendes to spark a pitch invasion when his resounding effort made it 4-3 from the spot, ending the King’s 25-year wait for a third Super Cup.

Here are the talking points from UAE football’s traditional season opener:

WHAT WE LEARNED

Great insights are hard to glean from a ceremonial clash played before the top-flight action begins.

This is especially true when a player is sent off with an hour left.

What the 9,241 fans in Al Nasr’s redeveloped home did witness was a supposed upstart, in Sharjah, declining to show any deference to one of the professional game’s established powers. The shock 2018/19 AGL winners are going nowhere.

Gilded attackers Igor Coronado and Mendes dug in. Not even a stark imbalance in possession percentage of 80/20 and difference in attempts of 18/3 could rock them.

For Shabab Al Ahli, hotly recruited 2019 AFC Champions League top scorer Leonardo showed flashes. His delicate lofted pass in first-half injury time allowed 22-year-old forward Mohammed Jumaa to sting goalkeeper Adel Al Hosani’s hands with a half-volley – this was the tense showpiece’s only opportunity of note.

Injury prone UAE striker Ahmed Khalil’s presence as a second-half substitute offers the prospect of a required spearhead.

The lottery of the penalty shootouts witnessed Sharjah prevail.

They are here to stay. Shabab Al Ahli should be right with them.

SHAHEEN’S BIG STAND

Confusion has proliferated at Sharjah about new UAE coach Bert van Marwijk continued ignorance of warrior skipper Shaheen Abdulrahman.

Shouts for a belated call-up to October’s World Cup 2022 qualifiers against Indonesia and Thailand only increased in volume this weekend.

The gnarled centre-back – bearing a plaster on his eyebrow from the preceding Arabian Gulf Cup win at Ajman – relished the battle against Shabab Al Ahli. He was a talisman once Al Saleh was ejected and the tie descended into a classic ‘defence v attack contest’.

Al Jazira’s youthful pair of Khalifa Al Hammadi and Mohammed Al Attas are enviable talents. They exhibited, however, in last week’s tense opening 2-1 win in Malaysia that an injection of grit alongside them would not go amiss.

Abdulrahman’s industrial qualities are reminiscent of 2015 Asian Cup warrior Mohanad Salem. His case for consideration at the international stage should not be so readily dismissed.

MISSING MAURO?

There is much to ponder for Shabab Al Ahli coach Rodolfo Arruabarrena.

The ex-Argentina left-back ditched his usual reticence in the final throes, unable to cope with watching dead end after dead run down by numerically superior charges.

One part of their trio of foreign additions, in particular, failed to flourish. A bold call was made to mothball ex-FC Dallas playmaker Mauro Diaz and draft in Levski Sofia’s Davide Mariani.

The Swiss conductor dropped deep in a 4-3-3, failing to make any genuine impact during 62 forgettable minutes.

Diaz’s debut campaign for the AGL runners-up included five goals and six assists in 23 top-flight run-outs. A solid return.

Will Mariani, or indeed Cartabia who rocked the crossbar in the shootout, match it?

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